99designs, you are shady!

Hi everyone, I'm a big fan of Hacker News. Long-time lurker, first time poster :) I'm posting for the first time now because I just experienced something that I thought was extremely shady and, really, quite dishonest, and I needed to share it with the community. I'll try and keep it brief. Here we go...

So, I'm part of a small business and we're currently in the process of designing a completely new website. As part of that process, we were looking for a brand new UI. I've held some contests on 99designs before and been very pleased with the result, and so we decided to go the same route. I put up a contest for some design elements of our site and set our price to be $350.

The process for listing a new contest had changed slightly since I last made a contest with the site. It only mentioned a price to pay, but it didn't really mention what portion of that price was to go to 99designs as our listing fee and what portion was to be kept as a prize for the contest winner. My prior experience holding contests with 99designs was that their listing fees were reasonable (~$40 for a $600 contest), and so I dismissed this. We set our price at $350, which we thought was fair for what we were asking (fyi, we weren't asking for a full site design, just some UI elements).

Then we got an e-mail from a designer...

He basically said that he wanted to enter our contest, but the prize of $244 was too low for what we were asking. $244?! Where did that come from?? I replied asking him to double-check that he sees $244 as the prize since we paid $350, and surely, 99designs can't be charging us a listing fee of $106. Heck, they only charged us $40 to list a $600 contest before. He replied shortly confirming that he only sees $244. On to customer support.

I call customer support to figure out what's going on. That's when I find out exactly how shady 99designs operates...

I get on the phone with this girl. She's very nice and is trying to be helpful. I ask her why people are seeing our contest prize as $244 when we paid $350. Again, they surely aren't charging us a listing fee of $106. She replies saying that designers see $244 because that is the amount of the prize. It is our cost ($350), minus the fees that 99designs takes. So yes, they are indeed charging us $106 in listing fees! I was pretty shocked. That is a LOT.

I probed further. I ask her why is it that when we browse the contests, we see ours with a price of $350 next to it. But, when a designer sees the same listing, he sees the reduced price of $244. She says that if you submit a design for a contest, you are categorized as a designer, and so you see the price minus the listing fees. I reiterate to her, "So, if I hear this right, you show me one price as a contest holder, but show another price to the designers?! You're essentially hiding the cut that you take! Don't you find this deceptive at all?" Her response: "I agree. We're trying to fix it, but it's in the backlog and so it's not done yet". This was quite upsetting, but it gets worse...

I probe even further. I ask her, "Our listing fees end up being $106 for our contest which we paid $350. That is a LOT! Is the listing fee a flat $106? Or is it a percentage of the total?" She replies, "It's a percentage of the total cost. Usually around 30%". :0 Now I see why they are hiding it. They are taking a ridiculous listing fee from their customers!! I was clearly getting irritated and it was coming through on the phone, but I didn't want to be rude to this call rep. It's obviously not her fault, and she's being honest with me and trying to help. But, I had more questions...

I mention that I don't see the number $244 ANYWHERE. I ask, "Where on the site can I go to see that number? Essentially, where can I go on the site to see what cut 99designs is taking for my contest and what is actually going to the designer?" She says, "You have to call us". :0 That was all I had to hear. I thanked her for her help and ended the call.

For some perspective, I've held 2 previous contests on 99designs before this one. One, I paid $40 to list a $600 contest for a website. The other, I paid $100 in listing fees for a $1000 contest. In both instances, I remember 99designs being very forthcoming about how much would go to them and how much goes to the designers. This time, I end up paying $106 on a $350 contest! And they hid it from me in every step of the way!! I even looked in their FAQ and it doesn't mention anything about their cut. 99designs was once a go-to design-for-hire site for me. I've used them several times, and recommended them many more times. Sadly, that ends now :(

HN: Am I just overreacting? Or am I right? This seems very dishonest to me! I'd love to hear what other people say. Thanks in advance, everyone!

*note: Big thanks to the customer service rep! I wish I remembered her name. Although she was constantly giving me bad news, she was being honest and was genuinely trying to help.

*tldr; We put up a contest on 99designs. They ended up taking a ridiculous cut as a listing fee and hid it from us. Shady.